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How to Prevent Roof Collapse From Snow

We count on our roof to keep us, and nearly everything we own, safe and protected from harsh weather. Heavy snow can pose a serious risk to your roof and could even cause it to collapse in severe situations. Homes that are most susceptible are those with roofs that are flat, low pitched or simply in poor condition. It’s important to know what to do to keep the roof on your home, garage and shed in good shape before winter weather arrives.

Understanding the causes of roof collapse

Snow accumulation

Not all snow is the same, so it’s important to know the different types of snow and understand how much your roof can support. Light and fluffy snow shouldn’t pose much of a threat, but heavy, wet snow, or snow mixed with ice or sleet, may warrant your attention.

A roof in good condition can support 20 pounds per square foot of snow before there’s any risk of roof collapse. That translates to about four feet of light snow or two feet of heavy, packed snow on your roof. The heavier the snow (or ice), the more weight and impact it will have on your roof.

Ice buildup

According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), one inch or more of ice on your roof can add undue stress.1 Therefore, it’s important to pay close attention to freezing rain, rain on top of snow or the formation of ice dams. Allowing ice to build up on your roof can be a contributing factor in a roof collapse.

Signs of roof stress

Exterior indicators

From the ground, inspect your roof from all sides and identify signs of damage or aging. Look for any of the following:

  • Sagging roof
  • Cracks in exterior walls
  • Stressed/bowed support beams
  • Missing, curled or lifted shingles

Interior indicator

  • Sagging and cracking in the ceiling and walls
  • Interior water damage 
  • Jammed doors and windows 

If you notice any of these issues, hire a roofing professional to evaluate the situation and complete any necessary repairs.

Preventive measures

Regular roof inspections

Deteriorating or damaged shingles may lead to water intrusion, which can compromise the integrity of your roof, making it more susceptible to collapse from snow. As a part of your routine preventive home maintenance, your roof should be inspected yearly. Additional inspections may be needed after significant weather events. While it's always best to consult with a professional, there are important signs you might need a new roof that you can identify on your own. If your roof needs to be replaced, consider contacting a professional for next steps.

Proper insulation and ventilation

Properly insulating your attic reduces your risk of a roof collapse. Snow and ice will gradually melt off your roof as the temperatures rise when the roof is properly insulated. Without adequate attic insulation, heat will rise throughout the house and warm the roof. This causes the snow to melt too quickly, resulting in heavy layers of ice when the water refreezes.

The cycle of freezing and refreezing can lead to ice dams. Once an ice dam occurs, water can back up into your home, causing interior water damage.

Gutter and downspout maintenance

Your gutters should be inspected for damage or sagging, and repaired as needed. Make sure your gutters and downspouts are firmly attached to your home and are clear of leaves and other debris. If you’re comfortable doing so, there are ways to safely clean your gutters to prevent any clogs. Your downspouts should be directed away from the foundation to ensure the water runoff doesn’t pool at your foundation.

Snow removal

Snow removal is an important factor in preventing a roof collapse. Once the majority of the snow is off the roof, the risks of structural damage and ice dams are reduced.

Safe methods and tools:

Roof rakes may work if you have a one-story home. Rakes can be used to safely remove snow and/or ice from your roof while standing on the ground. When using a roof rake: 

  • Remove the loose snow toward the bottom edge of the roof while avoiding gutters and downspouts.
  • Try to stop raking when you’re within 2-3 inches of the roof surface to avoid damaging the shingles.

Roof deicing cables work to melt the ice around patches of snow, giving the water melting off of the snow a path to the gutters. When using deicing cables: 

  • Make sure they’re installed before there’s any snow or ice on the roof.
  • Run the cable through your gutters to prevent the water inside from freezing, allowing for an unimpeded flow of water.

DIY vs. professional services:

While snow removal services may be costly, consider hiring a professional to clear your roof once the snow has begun to accumulate. Professional snow removal is safer and more efficient than clearing your roof yourself. If necessary, you should contact a professional to repair any damage caused by the snowstorm.

Roof collapse emergency plan

If you believe your roof is collapsing or in danger of collapsing, here are some steps you should take:

Immediate actions

  • Prioritize safety: If you believe there may be a threat to your safety, evacuate.
  • Contact emergency services: Don’t re-enter the home until authorities confirm it’s safe to do so.

Contact your insurance provider

  • Timely reporting: Filing a claim with your insurance carrier should be done as soon as possible. Depending on your coverage and carrier, you may be connected with services to help mitigate the damage.

Document the damage

  • Structural:  To the extent you can do so safely, take photos of any visible interior and exterior damage in your home.
  • Personal property: List and photograph damage to personal property. This is especially important for any items that need to be disposed of immediately.

Take measures to protect your home

Feeling safe and secure in your home is necessary for creating peace of mind. Taking preventive measures and incorporating roof inspections into your regular home maintenance can go a long way in avoiding unexpected and costly damage to your home.

Sometimes accidents happen, even to those who are prepared. Having the right home insurance in place can protect your home and personal property.

Is your home damaged or need renovations? If you’re insured by Amica, you have access to home repair assistance offered by Contractor Connection. Through Contractor Connection, you’ll be referred to a licensed general contractor in your area.

1 Prevent Home Roof Damage from Heavy Snow and Ice

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